Tag Archives: budget

What To Do When You’re Too Poor To Travel

When people talk about taking a holiday, does it leave you feeling somewhat jealous? Inadequate? That you should be travelling and having amazing experiences in order to live a meaningful life?


Earlier this year I read an article on Wired.com where our obsession to escape into ‘authentic’ experience and travel aesthetic was highlighted through a fake Instagram account featuring Barbie as its protagonist. Wired called it ‘an endless barrage of pensive selfies in exotic locales, arty snapshots of coffee, and just the right filter on everything.’

But why, why, why? Who’s looking at this stuff? And who cares?

Many of us, apparently.

I want me some of that. Oh hang, on. Really? Now I feel silly. 

We gobble up ‘breathtaking photos of mountains and beaches,’ and long for ‘a day when we can just get away from it all,’ say Wired. We all want to escape our lives, it would seem.

Like 20% of UK families, according to children’s charity Barnados who say that the poorest families have a disposable weekly income of £39 (US$59/$AU80) where even a trip to the beach is considered a luxury.

Or like one of my blog’s readers who left the following comment on my 5 Benefits of Family Holidays post:

i cant afford holidays because im poor as fuck……

Clear and direct, it jolted me into researching and writing this post.

The privilege of budget travel

Here’s the thing: many of the world’s travel bloggers, myself included, might talk about budget travel and how if you work really hard and cut back on daily luxuries (think coffees, lunches out, drinks with friends) you will be able to see the world. How short term pain (think working long hours, skipping coffees and losing friends because you’re obsessed with saving) will only lead to long-term travel gain if you want it enough.

Ahem. Writing this down feels awkward and embarrassing because I know I have told myself, and probably others, this same script. It is, in part, how I managed to make it happen, but there’s more to it, of course.

The reality is that most the people spouting this rhetoric, myself included, have a set of privileges that need to be acknowledged: A solid education. Access to jobs and career paths. Sound health and mind, for the most part. Supportive social and professional networks who encourage us to be ambitious, search out our dreams and explore our talents.

In terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we’re talking highest-level stuff here. Self-actualisation. To not have to worry about all the basics like shelter and security, we are lucky. Very lucky.

In a recent article for xoJane.com, Keziyah Lewis supports the idea that luck plays a big factor and concludes by saying: ‘Budget travel writers may have worked hard to get where they are, but just like me, they’re also lucky. Ignoring this, and the financial circumstances that prevent people from seeing the world, is simply classist.’

‘Budget travel’ as a term is fairly problematic, in any case. It’s all so relative. The ‘budget travel’ discussed online is predominantly relative to ‘mostly white, middle class travel writers’, according to Lewis.

But let’s get back to the core issue: you can’t afford to holiday this year (or ever). Maybe you’ve never been abroad. Put plain and simply, you can’t afford to travel.

Is there really a choice?

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 1.36.36 pm

Change your mindset, says Nomadic Matt (Image from nomadic matt.com)

Nomadic Matt, a prolific travel blogger and budget travel advocate writes in his article How To Change The “I’m Too Poor To Travel” Mindset And Say Yes To Travel: ‘I’m too poor to travel” is a belief that causes many to lack the confidence to believe travel is possible.’ He effectively argues that – for a good handful of people – there is the choice.

And it’s a common argument: we all have the power to make choices in our lives that impact on our experience of life.

Whatever our income (or lack of) our lifestyle choices do determine to some extent our potential to travel. For example I’ve got friends on the dole who spend their income on internet, tobacco and weed. I’ve got friends in high-income roles who do exactly the same. Both could save money to travel if they truly desired.

Can desire, then, play a role in us reaching our goals to travel? Somewhat. It might kick start a process, but there’s no guarantee. Effectively, without money (and time), desire can be quashed as we are pushed into survival mode, which makes it impossible to imagine any other way of being. Travel appears to be something that other people do. Richer people.

So is there a way to become richer that can apply to all? Unlikely. Maybe there are things you can sell, things you can do in your spare time to earn extra cash rather than watch TV. Hell, sell your TV and cancel your cable plan. Cancel your internet service and go to the library instead. Switch your phone to pay-as-you-go. Prepare food at home. Find amazing deals and coupons and vouchers. Every little bit counts; it all adds up.

But maybe you work so damn hard ten hours a day that by the time you get home you’re too flogged to do anything but flake out in front of the TV.

The comment left on my blog made me realise that it’s too simple (and even insulting) to say that travel is just a mindset and that anyone can travel. Clearly not everyone can, at least not in the way that the media talks travel. (To be fair to Matt, he does acknowledge this in his blog post).

So maybe there’s a different way we can think about and approach travel?

Seeing things differently

One person who realised this was a retired aircraft engineer called Bahadur Chand Gupta who bought a decommissioned Airbus A300 and transformed it into a travel experience, The Flight to Nowhere. Charging up to a dollar for entry, Stuff.co.nz explains that it ‘offers people who might never be able to afford to get on a real flight the experience of being on a plane.’

Coming from a place of wanting to share the experience, this flips the whole travel thing on its head. Not only are people getting to enjoy a ‘flight experience’, they’re possibly getting a better – or at least more holistic and fun – flight experience than those people who actually use planes to get from A to B. It’s not the real thing, but it a real thing in its own right, an experience nonetheless.

And it shows the world we live in where a ‘travel experience’ is interchangeable with a ‘new experience’. Thanks also to the internet, we can now ‘see’ and ‘experience’ the world more readily than ever before, without ever leaving our sofa/home/country. Google Earth takes this a step further, in that we can virtually navigate through the streets of a totally new place, pull up at the driveway of a foreign friend and check out their neighbourhood.

But in amongst this mass of information is a whole lot of content curation. The photo you see is unlikely to be the only photo from that collection. It’s just the best one of many. Who’s going to post their worst photo(s)? Who wants to look at them?

Real travel vs. real travel?

A 'travel' photo that I took yesterday in my backyard in Australia. It was 1 of 13 photos that I took (and I didn't even see the bee until when I reviewed this picture).

A ‘travel’ photo that I took yesterday in my backyard in Australia. It was 1 of 13 photos that I took (and I didn’t even see the bee until afterwards until when I reviewed the pictures).

Does this then mean that the travel we think exists is actually a myth and we’re doomed to be disappointed by reality? In his book, The Art of Travel, philosopher Alain de Botton indicates that this may be too pessimistic, and that it ‘might be truer and more rewarding to suggest that it is primarily different’.

Advice across the board seems to be: Keep things in perspective when reading everyone’s amazing travel accounts, mine included. I have barely written about the nastier, grosser and sadder moments of my travels because most people won’t be interested. It doesn’t offer the same escapism as stories with glossy, beautiful backdrops. Keep the view that those pictures and videos too are but one account of that place, one glimpse of much more complex reality. We live in a real world, after all. It’s complex and multifaceted (and surely all the more beautiful for that?).

Darby Cisneros, the artist who created the satirical Barbie Instagram account (mentioned earlier in this post) has now pulled the plug on her experiment. She told Wired ‘I get it, it’s pretty to look at. But it’s so dishonest. Nobody actually lives like this.’

How can this help us? Whenever you feel like everyone else is doing all these incredible things and seeing all these special places because of all the fun, zen, wide angled pictures they’ve posted, realise it’s possibly a load of BS. Or at least a very constructed moment in time.

(The likelihood, anyway, is that during the BEST experiences of your life you will be too absorbed IN the moment to take a photo that does it justice. And it really doesn’t matter. What really matters is that YOU JUST HAD THE BEST EXPERIENCE, right?)

But there’s also the flipside that if you do want to go out and take some amazing photos of the world and your experience in it, do it. Why not? The world clearly craves well-constructed scenes of beauty, scenes that hint at a life of ‘what could be’, whether that’s through city excitement or the serenity of nature or whatever you damn well please. Someone will consume it.

And maybe if you spend some time and care taking photos of where you live and of elements that constitute your life, you’ll look back and realise that your life is beautiful in it’s own right. Landscapes, cityscapes, concrete graffitiscapes, they all have beauty and associated stories. Share them.

Take time out

Sometimes to see that beauty, though, you need to step back and take some time out.

I recall my ex’s mum telling me that ‘change is as good as a holiday’. It’s only really now, after what’s been a slog of a challenging year, that I’ve realised that maybe a holiday is as good as a change, and that some time out might actually mean you don’t have to change, whether that be your job, your life, whatever.

I’ve realised that a lot of the time all I really need is a break. I don’t need to do anything high-adrenaline like jumping out of an airplane, I don’t need to fly anywhere foreign or sit in a car for hours to get to a town up the coast, I don’t need to be hyper stimulated by new sights and sounds or handfuls of new people.

Travel doesn’t have to be about perfect beaches, neon city streaked frenzy or screaming markets stuffed with dried llama foetuses or dyed pink chicks for sale. It can be, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

Could the answer be to think of travel as something a little more internal? Of giving your mind the space to appreciate where you’re at by taking a break from your busy life?

Travel local and staycate

If you’re craving more than just a break but a bus ticket to the next town is out of the question, maybe consider a full-blown staycation. At certain times of the year there’s an increased expectation to go away, but why?

Image borrowed from thewire.com

Image borrowed from thewire.com

In the last few weeks I have had four people ask me whether I’m going away for Christmas. I didn’t realise it was such ‘a thing’. Feeling slightly inadequate listening to other people’s plans to travel to Brazil, Europe and South East Asia, I’ve since decided to embrace the staycation. If other people come to this area for their holidays, why can’t I holiday here too? I’ll cut back my work hours, pull out my walking shoes and wander where I live. Yes, it helps that my current base is beautiful and exotic but my yearning right now is to (re)connect with this area and (re)discover why I settled here in the first place.

When people travel to your part of the world, what are the touristy things that they do? Where do they go? What are they capturing in their holiday photos? According to life coach Charlene Tops, all too often we forget about what’s on our own doorstep. Her suggestion is to ‘observe the area you are living in with fresh eyes just like an outsider would do. It’s amazing how different we view our surroundings when we look at them as though we have never seen them before.’

Is there a way that you can afford a few days off work to do what you love to do in your locality? Or try out a few touristy things? Walks, waterfalls, museums and art galleries, among other things, are often free.

Volunteer travel

If it still doesn’t feel different enough from your normal life, there’s one further recommendation I have for when times are tight but where you still yearn for that jolt to your routine that travel so beautifully provides. Volunteering.

I remember looking for volunteering options before travelling to South America and being shocked that many of companies I came across were asking me to pay!

Without going into any longwinded detail about why these companies ask you to pay to volunteer your time and expertise, I do now have a basic understanding of the funding that’s needed to run some voluntary organisations, and also how these particular organisations can offer a ‘safe’ first volunteering experience. But, still. Coming from a family where my parents have spent their entire working lives volunteering full time, I’ve seen first hand the value and impact of people being generous with their time and energy. Money doesn’t always have to come into the equation.

So I’m not talking about the type of volunteering where you have to pay for the privilege. I’m talking about opportunities that allow you to exchange your time for meaningful service and experience. In terms of travel this means connecting with new people, places and ways of life.

Two organisations that I’ve tried and tested and would recommend exploring are HelpX and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Both organisations have worldwide presence. Wherever you’re based, there’s a good opportunity to get involved.

Do it your way

The more I explore this topic, the more it seems to come back to the following: Forget feeling like you should be doing anything, or that amazing experiences and personal growth are only gained by long distance travel. Don’t buy into the belief that you have to see the world in order to live a meaningful life.

Travel, like everything else, comes in all shapes and sizes. Don’t go judging on it this holiday season.


Wishing you all some amazing adventures this festive season, whether they be abroad, in your backyard or in your brain. I’d love to connect, hear your stories and see some holiday season photos in the comments below. That way we can all travel without leaving our homes after all. 

And if you’ve found some value in this post, please share. I’d love to reach out to people who might find this of benefit. Thanks! 😃

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Filed under health, local travel, reflection, travel, volunteering

Budgeting Tahiti

Be prepared: paradise costs a small fortune. Luckily, I was somewhat prepared for the pain. Over ten years ago some friends of mine were on a round the world ticket when they flew into Tahiti to surf, realised the cost of accommodation and living, and nearly hotfooted it straight out of the place. Beach sleeps led to police warnings but kind local bailouts meant that they ended up staying a while: surfing, fishing, catching wild pigs; all the idylls of island life.

But for most of us, accessing this reality of island life is a little more tough, and a more modern climate means accepting that everything here is a little on the pricy side.

Frustratingly, many of the trails and activities around the island have also been made into paid experiences that require a guide or a group excursion, and even a couple of the free ones require permits (see the tourist information centre for lots of information on island hikes and other activities).

In short, people have moved into Tahiti and the surrounding Society Islands and atolls and have commercialised the experience of paradise (in some places to a point that it pretty much stops being paradise, to me in any case). You can’t blame them for capitalising in on an exotic experience; it is after all, what our current world tells us to do.

Walk down the main streets of Papeete and you’ll pass by many designer shops and jewellers. Who comes here to go shopping? All the people moored up in fancy yachts, maybe, or the people who’ve jetted in on business class, or honeymooners on a romantic escape. Or regular, middle class folk who have scrimped and saved for a once in a lifetime taste of paradise. (Whether it’s actually paradise or not is a different matter). Or me and my crew. Hmmm… less likely.

I was lucky to be able to stay on board the boat for a few days because when I checked with the tourism agency about budget accommodation options, they came back to me with a guest house costing 7,200 CFP. That’s £49.07, or US$78.87. Not really budget, in my opinion, but maybe budget for the people who are more likely to frequent the Society Islands. I did some online searches, having paid a minimum of 3euros per hour for internet (no free WiFi available at all, and charged in Euros because of links with France), and I did eventually find a few backpacker friendly paces.

One little food fact that helped to keep costs down (alongside The Trucks experience) was the discovery that there is a policy on keeping the price of baguettes below 85 CFP (£0.58 / US$0.93)  so that every member of the society there has the opportunity to buy bread. Stock up on the carbs, then, and free, fallen coconuts. Maybe not the healthiest, but it’s a diet that will keep you alive. For a little while, in any case. Or go catch a fish (just be careful with those coral fish).

Here’s an idea of some costs:

Cour   de Franc Pacifique British Pound US Dollar
Cheapest hostel bed 2,000 CFP pppn £13.63 $21.90
Budget hotel bed 8,000p CFP ppn £54.52 $87.62
Taxi 1,000 CFP per km £6.82 $10.95
Sandwich 450 CFP £3.07 $4.93
Cheap roadside meal 1,200 CFP £8.18 $13.14
Water (1.5 litres) 104 CFP £0.71 $1.14
Coca-cola can 200 CFP £1.36 $2.19
Beer (50Cl) from supermarket 300 CFP £2.04 $3.29
Icecream in a cone 300 CFP £2.04 $3.29
Loaf of bread 450 CFP £3.07 $4.93
Chocolate bar 350 CFP £2.39 $3.83

Realistically, though, Tahiti and the surrounding French Polynesian islands are not the smartest place to visit if you’re travelling tight, and budget backpackers may well want to avoid the place.

Money matters momentarily put aside, solo travellers – and especially single travellers – may also want to avoid this honeymoon area. Even if you can afford it, having constant reminders of stereotyped romance mixed in with pitying looks will ultimately grate on even the most established solo adventurer and happy singleton.

Or you can just enjoy it for what it is, accept that everything is expensive and that you’ll blow your budget, and indulge in being surrounded by snippets of paradise and luxury and love.

It’s really pretty damn special.

But it’s time for me to leave. I’m all spent.

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Filed under activity & sport, beaches, costs/money, food & drink, hikes, moorea, pacific, places to stay, solo travel, tahiti

Budgeting Bolivia

Despite Bolivia having the poorest economy in South America it is starting to chase tourist money and prices are slowly creeping up for visitors. As with many countries in South America, there are tourist prices and local prices, and these are often not transparent. Very little is actually labelled up. Vendors make prices up on the spot and often seem loathe to bargain.

I always find the issue of bargaining a delicate subject. Prices may have been inflated for a tourist market but it does feel awkward to see travellers fighting hard to get a 5Bs. reduction for a quality piece of handiwork, something somebody has spent considerable time slaving over. 5Bs.? That’s US$0.72.

Imported products are more expensive, although you’re never fully sure whether you’re getting the legitimate brand or a counterfeit (shoes, for example, in the style of Converse with All Stan marked on the side are pretty obviously not the real deal, but there are plenty of close calls).

However, in a country where accommodation typically costs between Bs.30 and 50Bs., where a meal out will set you back 20Bs, where bus travel costs approximately 8Bs. per hour, Bolivia still is a place where cash-strapped travellers can go far. The cost of backpacking in Bolivia is cheap. No wonder some people keep extending their visa, postponing their travel on to Argentina or Chile or Brazil where life is a whole lot more expensive.

Hostel bed (rural/city) Bs.20   / Bs.50 £1.83-4.58 / US$2.87-7.18
Private room in hostel/hotel Bs.70-Bs.100 £6.41-9.17 / US$10.06-14.37
Cheap lunch out (al meurzo) Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Bottle of water Bs.6 £0.55 / US$.86
Fresh fruit juice at market Bs.4 £0.37 / US$0.57
Beer (large bottle) Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Yoghurt (1ltr) Bs.12 £1.10 / US$1.72
Branded toothpaste Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Woolly hat Bs.20-Bs.30 £1.83-2.75 / US$2.87-4.31
Woolly dress Bs.80-Bs.120 £7.33-11.00 / US$11.49-17.24
Travel guitar Bs.350-Bs.700 £32.08-64.16 / US$50.29-100.58
Cigarettes (20 pack)* Bs.8-Bs.10 £0.73-0.91 / US$1.15-1.44
Cocaine (per gram) * Bs.100-Bs.200 £9.17-18.33 / US$14.37-28.74
San Pedro powder (1 hit/trip)* Bs.10 £0.91 / US$1.15

*DISCLAIMER: By including these items, I am in no way advocating their use. I am simply detailing what is available and providing associated costs in order to give a fuller impression of the country and its marketplace.

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Filed under bolivia, costs/money, south america

Blowing the budget in Brazil

Português: Verso da moeda de 10 centavos da se...

Brazil is undeniably beautiful and fun. I partied, I indulged in good food and I visited quirky places and and beaches and natural wonders. But despite staying part of the time with a friend, I still spent a lot of money. Because, as all backpackers I’ve met agree, Brazil is expensive. Having overtaken the UK in 2012 to become the sixth strongest economic force in the world, it’s easy to see how exchange rates aren’t going to be particularly favourable for many of us.

Overall, my daily budget in Brazil came to R$90.74 (£43.02) per day but it’s worth being aware that I spent quite a lot of my time in in the main cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and on Ilha Grande, none of which were the cheapest of places.  My expenses were pretty standard with no major splurges other than nights out. I did visit Iguazu Falls, which cost R$172(£62.55) for both the Argentinian and the Brazilian sides but was totally worth every penny. And the only actual purchase I made was a pair of Havaianas for R$18 (£6.55). I love living in flip flops and as I was visiting the birthplace of the worlds ‘best’ flip flops (or thongs, if you must), it had to be done.

Here’s a rough idea of costs:

R$ £
Hostel bed R$45 £16.36
1.5l bottle water R$3 £1.09
Cheapish meal out R$30 £10.91
Bus travel (per hour) R$10 £3.64
Taxi ride (2km-5km) R$10-R$20 £3.64-£7.27
Club entry R$30 £10.91
Beer R$6 £2.18
Capairinha R$14 £5.09

With very little effort, I way overspent in Brazil. But on my travels I’m not obsessing about sticking to a daily budget and I’ve accepted that you just have to go with the reality of the costs and deal with it. Even if it means cutting your stay short.

Next up: Bolivia, South America’s weakest economy, where I knew my money would go a little further. I hoped that less time in Brazil and more time in Bolivia would balance things out a bit.

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Filed under brazil, costs/money, south america, travel

Budgeting New Zealand and Australia

$5 Australian note

Australia and New Zealand are not what I would call travellers’ places. They are, quite simply, expensive.

If you come directly from Europe or the US then maybe it won’t feel quite so harsh. I arrived from South America where US$5 got you a full meal and public transport was cheap. I really felt the difference and struggled to understand how many of the backpackers I met in Auckland and Sydney were out drinking and partying every night, eating expensive takeaways, buying pricey clothing. What was going on?

When I work out what I spent in New Zealand each day, it comes in at NZ$43.69 (£21.84).

During my month and a bit stint in New Zealand, I spent one week in a hostel, used a lot of buses, and stayed with friends and acquaintances along the way. I also CouchSurfed and slept in Auckland Airport. If I had needed to pay for accommodation the whole way, my budget could have increased by an additional NZ$30 (£15.71) per day. I did often pay for beers and food when staying with others, which cost more than if I was just fending for myself, so in some respects things levelled out a bit.

Whilst in New Zealand I also had to replace my camera, annoying, but I wouldn’t want to travel without a camera.

In Australia my daily expenditure was AU$34.21 (£23.41). And that was me being pretty damn careful. I’d found New Zealand expensive. Australia shifted things up a gear. Oh dear.

Initially I was pretty stressed about how costly everything was. ‘Don’t compare back to the UK’, said a Londoner I met at a party. It made sense. Once I started earning a bit in the local currency, it was all relative. Salaries are good, costs are high. Minimum wage is $15.51 per hour; many jobs pay more. A basic chocolate bar, like a Mars bar, costs $1.80 (£1.22), a loaf of bread anything upwards of $3.00 (£2.04). I personally also had to factor in internet costs, replacing a bike lock and helmet, and contributing towards surfboard repair.

My Australia daily average includes one night in a hostel in Sydney and return flights from Sydney up to Ballina-Byron as well as other public transport around and about Sydney.

To save money I slept a night in Sydney Airport and I was really fortunate to be able to spend over a month staying with good friends. I didn’t pay rent but bought in groceries and helped around the place to pay my way. If I had wanted to rent a place for the duration of my stay, rooms in share houses were advertised at around $200 (£136) per week, houses double that.

I hitched or cycled into work rather than take the bus. I didn’t go out and party excessively, but there were also moments when I gave in and paid above my usual cut-off for food or a drink when I just didn’t fancy drinking yet more water or making a sandwich. In short, I could have been more frugal, but I wanted to do things with people and that often upped the costs.

Some ideas of costs:

New Zealand Australia
Hostel bed $27 (£14.03) $30 (£20.41)
Beer (glass/schooner) $6 (£3.11) $6 (£4.08)
Bottle of wine $10 (£5.20) $10 (£6.80)
Black coffee $4 (£2.08) $4 (£2.72)
Pizza/curry/takeaway $15 (£7.79) $15 (£10.20)
Cheap meal out $15-$20 (£8-£10) $20-$30 (£13-£20)
Sandwich $5 (£2.60) $6.50 (£4.42)
Bus travel (1 hour) $10 (£5.20) $12 (£8.16)
Water Free in both New   Zealand and Australia! – water is good to drink out of the taps. All bars in Australia also need to provide   free water, whilst NZ tend to do so, although not required by law.

As a local friend pointed out to me, Sydney and Byron Bay in Australia are pricey places. This experience of Australia is therefore somewhat distorted, so I guess I’ll have to come back and check out the rest at some point soon. Anyone know where the cheapest place in Oz is? And do I really want to go there?!

It may be worth looking at Nomadic Matt’s blog where he has done more comprehensive write-ups on budgeting for New Zealand and Australia.

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Filed under australia, costs/money, new zealand

How much?! Costing travel in Peru

Peru has thus far proved to be a little more pricy to travel in than Ecuador, especially the bus travel, but then it’s taking me a little time to adjust to using the Nuevo Sol rather than the US Dollar. Dealing with such big numbers can mean that you get through what feels like a scarily huge amount of money in no time at all. But it does seem to get used up all too quickly. Why?

At the time of writing, S/.1000 is equal to UK£234.63. In Peru, hostels cost on average S/.25 (£5.87) for a dorm room, often not including breakfast.

Fresh juice seems to come in at roughly S /.6 (£1.28) and a cheap meal somewhere between S/.10 (£2.34) and S/.20 (£4.68). Eating street food or at the markets is considerably cheaper. I cooked up an English breakfast and the ingredients, minus sausages, cost S/.30 (£7.03). Not cheap.

Bus journeys are EXPENSIVE in comparison to Ecuador (granted, it’s nothing compared to the cost of public transport in the UK) coming in at between S/.5-S/.15 per hour. That’s between £1.17 and £3.52 per hour. And with typical gringo trail towns a good ten hours or more apart, the overall costs soon stack up.

So what is good value? Clothing seems to be inexpensive, for example at the market you can buy a set of woollen gloves or a hat for S/.6 (£1.40) or a hand knitted jumper for S/.30 (£7.03). In Trujillo I needed to stock up on some tops to replace ones lost along the way and was able to find a store offering two for S/.10 (£2.34), so deals aren’t impossible to find.

This discussion is of course only measuring cost relative to travelling for a longer amount of time. When your money’s got  to last, a S/. here and there is worth haggling over and saving. If I was still in full time employment and holidaying here in South America, my concept of cost would be very different. 

But where I am, here and now, I am feeling a bit confused as I’m watching my money disappear. It’s not like I’m lavish. So what’s going on? And how are all these other travellers managing to eat at posh places and not worry? I’m still trying to figure this all out, but I’m not buying into the hype that it’s the cheapest place to travel in South America. No way.

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Filed under costs/money, ecuador, south america, travel

Cost of backpacking Ecuador

Ecuador is not known for being the cheapest Latin American country to travel in, but compared to European prices you can still travel comfortably on a budget. If anything, the flight over to Ecuador is the most expensive part. 

I found some things to be very good value, like the public transport (although bus travel down south crept up in price) whilst trips to the Galapagos and food  in more touristy areas like La Mariscal in Quito could feel steep. Some  hostels and hotels charged prices similar to back home in the UK but cheaper options are easy  to find if you do just a little searching. Here’s an idea of some costs from autumn 2011:

  US$ UK £
Water (1.5 litre bottle) $0.60 £0.38
Hostel dorm bed (often B&B) $7-$12 £4.39- £7.53
Meal: almuerzo (inc. Drink) $2.50-$4 £1.57-£2.51
Meal: menu dishes $6-$15 £3.77-£9.42
Taxi across town $2-$4 £1.26-£2.51
Taxi to bus terminals $8-$12 £5.02-£7.53
Bus about town (i.e. Trolle bus in Quito) $0.25 £0.16
Bus travel  (per hour) $1 £0.63

Travelling solo ends up costing considerably more, not so much for accommodation (so long as you’re happy sleeping in dorms) but more in terms of getting taxis to bus terminals. In Quito this is especially the case where the majority of buses leave from Terminal Quitumbe (south) and Terminal Carcelén/Terminal Terrestre (north), both a good half hour drive away from the main hostel areas ($10 or thereabouts). 

I’ve found checking into a hostel with a kitchen, doing a supermarket shop and then cooking for myself is a good way to stick to a budget in more expensive areas.

*prices and conversions correct as of 10/11/2011 using a conversion rate of £1.00 = $1.59/ $1.00 = £0.63 from XE.com. Ecuador have used the US dollar as their official currency since 2000.

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Filed under costs/money, ecuador, solo travel, south america, travel

To Galapagos or not to Galapagos, that is the question

How can you visit Ecuador and not go to the Galapagos?’ asked my colleague when I had told him of my travel plans. I shrugged. My initial ideas had been to travel from Ecuador down through South America into Argentina where I would meet a friend and explore Patagonia, but realising both the cost and timescale, these ideas were minimised to spending the full three months in Ecuador. That way I could get a proper, fuller impression of the country. I didn’t want to flit or fly through places too quickly and miss… I don’t know… the true essence of the place.

So yes, why the dilemma with going to the Galapagos islands if I was choosing to base myself in Ecuador? Don´t many people come to Ecuador primarily to visit the Galapagos? I was surprised to meet so many cash conscious backpackers throw out their travellers’ attitude to finances and say ‘sod it! I’m going to the Galapagos!’, but they did. Only two people I’ve met on the road thus far have decided not to go and in both cases it was down to cost.

You will regret it if you don’t go’, said one new friend who had just got back, ‘it’s so amazing… a once in a lifetime experience’. ‘You’ll do it,’ said another, ‘you just can’t not do it’. I could go in the future, I argued, but it wasn’t a strong argument when measured against the increasing likelihood that they will start to restrict visitor numbers to the islands and that prices will push upwards.

So why the hesitance? Possibly because everybody keeps raving about it. I find anything over hyped a little off putting. ´It was´, said a couple of people who recently went to the Galapagos, ´a bit of a disappointment.  Maybe our expectations were too high´.

Others talked about being stuck on board with a bad crowd (realistically when a bunch of strangers are thrown together into a small space the dynamics can be great, or in some cases disastrous). Sticking to schedules and being lumped with a bad guide were also cited as affecting the experience (although I´ve been told many guides are fantastic too, luck of the draw I guess).

And yes, cost is a factor. Do I really want to blow my entire redundancy payout, my little bit of security, on a trip of a lifetime? Maybe. I´ve got a bit of thinking time.

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Filed under activity & sport, diving, ecuador, south america, travel

Not so Megabus

Driving a bus all day isn’t everyone’s ideal career, but don’t take it out on the customer!

Having left Middlesbrough a little late, we still made it to Leeds in good time. Just as the leaving announcement blared out over the tannoy, a lady turned up at the door. ‘Is this the bus to Birmingham?’ she asked, ‘Yes, but you need to be here 15 minutes early, you could be refused entry on this bus, you know?’ he barked. She protested, he reiterated his point and wouldn’t let it go. Even as he loaded up her bags he repeatedly shouted at her, pitch rising each time he outlined the potential delay she had caused. Her child clutched a little rucksack and looked bewildered. On board people bristled and muttered, and a toddler started to cry. ‘Make sure you fasten your seat belts’, he pointedly instructed before booming it out again as the bus pulled away.

I tried to understand him, tried to imagine the annoyance of late comers, of having to drive all day, of the monotony. But something in his tone, in his manner seemed harsher with this woman than it had been with others and I couldn’t help but sense a bit of a racist undertone. Driver No.2 was perfectly cheery, and suggested that as Driver No. 1 was from Manchester, he would have of course been moody and short. Discrimination lives on.

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